Korea’s Internet Giants Battle for Social Supremacy

In a not unrelated topic to yesterday’s post, ZDNet takes a look at the startling progress of Facebook and Twitter in Korea this year, and what local SNS services are doing to respond.

As the article notes, both Twitter and Facebook have captured the Korean imagination in a way that previous internet imports — MySpace, Yahoo, even (until very recently) Google — never managed. The number of Koreans using Facebook has jumped by 50 percent in the last six months to reach more than two million, while debates and news on Twitter now wield a sizeable influence on public opinion.

In the face of this onslaught, the article says, Korea’s internet giants are attempting a two-pronged strategy: In the short term, stem the tide of users leaving in favour of FB and twitter; in the long term, turn their services into “social hubs.”

One homegrown response (from Cyworld parent SK Communications) has come in the form of C-Log, which offers many of the same functions of FB, but with a self-consciously slick UI and (by the look of their homepage) a star-studded cast of celebrity endorsers.

Running with the hub concept, Naver (whose Twitter-like me2day already claims more than 4 million users) this month opened its Naver Me service, which lets users access everything from their blogs, cafes (online groups) and me2day accounts on a single page. It also incorporates a Google News type service that lets users manage all their news sources, as well as Naver’s messenger service.

Though currently trailing its bigger rivals, Daum’s Yozm service is aimed squarely at the booming mobile web market, supports location-based SNS services, and has some neat Twitter-friendly features. The gajyeoagi (literally “bring here”) function can post all your Tweets on your Yozm page in chronological order, and also find and display any responses.

The notion of an SNS aggregator is certainly not new — the ill-fated Google Buzz tried something similar, and Gist now offers summaries of updates from all your networks and SNS accounts. Though the concept has largely failed to take off among English-language SNS, it will be interesting to see if it gains traction here in Korea. However, while Korea’s internet companies have big advantages — familiarity with Korea, a big existing user base — it’s this lack of originality or “wow” factor, as ZDNet says, that is their biggest problem.

Which is not, ZDNet hastens to add, to say that it’s all going to be plain sailing for FB and Twitter. Already, FB has fallen foul of the Korea Communications Commission over privacy issues. And with FB due to set up an official Korean office this year, the SNS giant will be subject to all Korean laws, including the country’s real-name system.

Still, given their recent stratospheric rise, it’d be a brave man that bets against FB and Twitter in Korea in the next 12 months.

Google Rides the Mobile Trojan Horse into Korea

Google’s relative anonymity in Korea has long been a symbol of the country’s peculiar mix of extreme high-tech and general disdain for international internet platforms and standards. In a country with some of the fastest internet connections and highest rates of broadband penetration in the world, many websites still use Adobe Flash or ActiveX, and it’s not uncommon for web designers to be unaware of Firefox, let alone Chrome.

Even today, Google holds just 1.2 percent of the portal market on Korean PCs. But a look at the figures for mobile devices, from this piece on ZDNet, reveals a very different picture.

The first graph shows that while Naver remains the dominant portal in Korea, its strength is considerably diminished on mobile devices, where Google now has almost one-fifth of the market. The second demonstrates how this translates into actual site visits. For both PC and mobile access, Naver, Daum and Nate hold the top three positions. However, for positions 4, 5 and 6, the top PC sites — Cyworld, TiStory and Chosun.com — are displaced on mobile devices by Google, YouTube and Twitter.

For reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere, this development should have Naver very worried. According to the ZDNet article, the number of Koreans accessing the web via mobile devices topped 14.7 million in November, marking a rise of 35 percent over the course of the year. As with so much else, the explosion of smartphones, and especially the iPhone, is transforming Korea’s internet landscape. And with the hugely successful iPad arriving in Korea just last month (and a bunch of other tablet PCs set to arrive soon), 2011 looks to be a very happy New Year for Google in Korea.

Digital Ninja!

Loved this video taking the piss out of the social media industry, especially the stuff about Twitter. Though I am a moderate user of Twitter myself, I do sometimes wonder about some of the social media professionals who seem to have an inexhaustible amount of time to shoot off Tweets.

digital ninja from moon stuff on Vimeo.

Also, apologies for the lack of posts. Things have been pretty nuts here with LG’s preparations for the Consumer Electronics Show in January, about which I may post some more soon. I hope to post some of the regular stuff (ie, cribbed from Bloter and ZDNet) this week.

Cheers, and Merry Christmas!

Korean Social Media Round-up

From Korea’s social media news:

  • In its 2010 Hot Issues, ZDNet Korea heralds the “scary” levels of growth Facebook has enjoyed in Korea this year. Last month, according to research agency Korean Click, Facebook had almost 6.7 million visitors in Korea, who stayed for an average of 37.3 minutes, and viewed a total of 500 million pages. Of the domestic SNS sites, only Cyworld could match that.

    As if that weren’t tough enough for local SNS companies, Facebook has launched an all-out offensive to crack the Korean market. Last June, Facebook entered a deal with KT to include the SNS service on regular mobile phones too, while in July, the SNS giant showed off an “open market” application all in Korean. More recently, Facebook also struck a deal with the LG Uplus carrier to exempt users from any data charges incurred while using Facebook on the Oz Generation mobile internet service.

    While domestic SNS sites have been scrambling to launch or upgrade their own “social services,” they have largely been falling short so far. They have been falling further behind in terms of page views and traffic, and because they’re benchmarking Facebook, many have yet to develop a clear identity.

    And with Twitter set to open a Korean office next year, things are set to get even tougher for Korea’s own SNS developers.

  • Also on ZDNet, the site reveals which search terms have been most popular with netizens this year.

Of no surprise to anyone, Kim Yu-na, American Idol clone Superstar K, Park Ji-sung and Girls’ Generation are all in there (as is Twitter!). For those unfamiliar with them, No 1 and No 2 are smash hit dramas Baker King, Kim Tak Goo and Sungkyungwan Scandal.

  • Bloter reports on yet another new development in Korea’s social commerce realm, which seems to be growing, mutating and innovating almost by the minute.

    This time, it’s a kind of CSR campaign by Korea’s biggest social commerce site, Ticket Monster (or Timon [티몬], as it’s increasingly known). Called 소셜 기부 (somewhat awkwardly renamed “So speCial Give” in English), the campaign aims to overcome the difficulties small- and mid-sized companies (such as Timon) and socially-conscious enterprises face in conducting CSR: namely, already wafer-thin margins and high-production costs.

    To counter these problems, the So speCial Give campaign will see Timon selling goods from social enterprises at a 25 percent markdown (rather than the usual 50 percent) while also allowing said enterprises to use Timon’s services commission-free.

    The first such campaign took place from December 10 to 12, and saw Beautiful Coffee, a Korean fair-trade organisation, offering “fair hot chocolate” for 25 percent off. Future campaigns will involve Beautiful Coffee’s sister company Beautiful Store (a string of charitable shops around Seoul), and We Can, a charity for disabled people, who will be making cookies to raise funds.

  • On a similar note, Daum has extended its annual “Make Korea’s Winter Warm Campaign” onto mobile devices.

    Run since 2005, Daum’s flagship CSR campaign, in ZDNet’s somewhat apocalyptic turn of phrase, aims to have participants “glance back at your estranged neighbours, and warm up a society that seems to have been left barren by [economic] stagnation.”

    From this year, whenever someone checks in to the “donations of love” section via Daum’s location-based service Daum Place, or snaps the QR code on the Digital Views installed on stations on subway lines No. 1 to 4, Daum will donate 1,000 won to charity.

The Power Twitterians: Who They Are and What They Want

They may sound like the villains from an ancient episode of Dr Who, but the Power Twitterians are, in fact, Korea’s most influential users of Twitter. And in what is surely the most authoritative such study yet undertaken in Korea, the Yonsei University Cyber Communications Lab (YCCL) recently asked: Power Twitterians: Who Are They?

In order to find their “Power Twitterians,” researchers from YCCL compiled a list of the 15,000 most followed Twitterers in Korea, which they then whittled down to 4,000. Of those, they chose 491 deemed to have given the most “valid” answers, and compiled a series of graphs and statistics. This was how they broke down:

Without going into too much detail, the graph above shows that the surveyed Power Twitterians are mostly IT professionals, students or PR/marketing types, are mainly in their 30s (but with a large number also in their 20s or 40s), are overwhelmingly university graduates, and are male.

The growing power of Twitter to dispense information, and its potentially damaging effects, have been much debated in Korea recently, so the researchers were keen to find out where the Power Twitterians got their information from.

They discovered that a big majority (almost 70 percent) spent between 30 minutes and two hours daily scouring news sources, of which 68 percent were online and 20 percent from SNS. Of the people who got their news online, 43.4 percent said they got it from “news services,” 21.8 percent from “reference services,” and 27.5 percent said it came from Twitter, showing just how pervasive Tweets, whether true or not, can be once they’re in circulation in Korea.

As this fascinating recent piece in the Korea JoongAng Daily explained, Koreans place an inordinate amount of faith in online sources, so it should come as little surprise that tech-savvy Twitterers base their worldview largely on online sources as well.

Next up, the researchers asked the Power Twitterians how they had got into Twitter. The top three answers were “curiosity,” “to for relationships with new people,” and “to get information.” In another sign of the yawning chasm between Twitter and Cyworld (and presumably Facebook), just 1 percent of respondents said they used Twitter to maintain relationships with existing friends.

Elsewhere, the study discovered that Twitterians with more “following” than followers were primarily motivated by a desire to bump up their numbers of followers or to “follow back” people with the same interests. However, people with more followers than “followings” were more interested in gaining sources of information and were more prone to follow specific people first.

Among its other results, the study discovered:

  • Respondents were quite happy to “follow back” people they were acquainted with offline or with whom they shared similar interests, but — in contrast with conventional Twitter wisdom — they were not, on the whole, especially swayed by extensive bio information including blog URLs and places of work. However, they were drawn by people in the same line of work or with similar political persuasions.
  • Broken down by age, Power Twitterians in their teens were more interested in celebrities, while those over 40 felt reassured by people who’d filled in their profile, and…
  • The most common reasons for retweeting were that the Tweet was poignant, had a specific point that the Twitterian could sympathise with, or showed a good sense of humour. However, very few of the respondents expressed an interest in retweeting messages “for the sake of taking part in an event” — which, the article surmised, is bad news for Korea’s periodic RT marketing promotions.

Internet Calls Arrive on Smartphones — Bloter Yawns

At long last, writes Bloter, Korea’s big mobile carriers have allowed internet call services on their smartphones. From today (the 6th), KT is offering unlimited use of internet calls on its “i-value” and “i-premium” plans.

But Bloter isn’t impressed. Yes, free internet phone calls are a good thing, but SKT’s All-in-One 55 and KT’s “i-value” require customers to pay a standard fee for 300 minutes of call-time a month, so suddenly offering free internet calls isn’t really such a massive act of generosity. Perhaps the biggest benefit (though it’s unstated in the article) will be cheaper or free international calls.

Worse, Bloter says, is that this move comes as actual calling becomes an ever-less important part of mobile phone functions. Though the boom in SNS use on smartphones is well documented, the article only supports its point with this graphic on the growth in text messaging across all age groups (presumably in Korea).

We are, the article says, undergoing a big change in mobile communications. Whereas previously mobile phones were used primarily for talking, today, and especially among the young, they are just as much for messaging, playing games and accessing Facebook or Twitter.

The article signs off with this clarion call to Korea’s mobile phone carriers:

While it’s a happy event that carriers are now allowing internet calls on mobile phones, we really hope they don’t forget that they need a new communication strategy that doesn’t place central importance on voice calls. Is it too forward of us to warn them that they should be emphasizing Facebook and Twitter over Skype?

Social Commerce Takes Twitter

From Bloter comes the inevitable news of a new third-party app for Twitter aimed squarely at Korea’s booming social commerce sector. Called Twitmoa, it helps buyers and sellers connect through Twitter.

When businesses or individual sellers (who must be registered Twitter users) enter product or delivery info on Twitmoa, it will automatically publish updates on Twitter; any customer feedback or inquiries will go through Twitter, too. And when customers sign up for the service, they can enter their categories of interest and where they live so that they only receive Tweets of interest to them.

Bloter says that the big difference between sites such as Ticket Monster and WeMakePrice.com is that Twitmoa effectively cuts out the middle man, letting producers sell their goods directly to consumers, with no commission charged. As Richard points out in his excellent analysis over on Seoul Space, social commerce is already brutally competitive in Korea, with most companies operating on wafer-thin margins. Throw in another (commission-free) competitor on the wildly popular Twitter platform, and the road ahead looks decidedly rocky for many social commerce start-ups.

One Man’s Social is Another Man’s Communal

I’ve always been struck by how accepting Koreans generally are of the deluge of foreign words in their language. It’s one thing to use transliterations of English terms for imported concepts or products — 인터넷 (internet), say, or 컴퓨터 (computer) — but 어렌지하다 for arrange? 터프하다 for tough? And even, among a growing cohort of fashion types, 슈즈 for shoes?!

Well enough is enough, says The National Institute of Korean Language, who are urging that Korea casts out the terms “social commerce” and “social shopping” in favour of 공동할인구매 (gongdong halingume, or “communal discount shopping”) before it’s too late!

But while acknowledging the general good in trying to preserve one’s language, Bloter points out (scroll down) that, in fact, the terms “social shopping” and “social commerce” are not interchangeable in Korea. “The term social commerce,” Bloter says, “includes the notion of using SNS to promote sales…

But it doesn’t refer to a specific business model or service style. Of course, SNS’ word of mouth is the embodiment of communal shopping activities … or rather social shopping; or social commerce. But social shopping and social commerce are not the same, so we have to distinguish them, do we not?

I’ve yet to see this difference explained, but if I do, rest assured that I’ll let it be known.

Synth Corner, No 2: Let Me Go

So there I was, listening to Visage radio on last.fm, when what should come on but a long-forgotten gem from Heaven 17 called Let Me go. I don’t think I’d heard this in well over 20 years, but I reckon it’s the best thing they ever did.

Heaven 17 were reasonably big in the early ’80s, but they only seem to be remembered these days for Temptation, which was thrust back into prominence after appearing on the Trainspotting soundtrack.

Along with their very Aryan-looking singer Glenn Gregory (who I once saw in London), Heaven 17 comprised two other Sheffield natives, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, who had been in the original lineup of The Human League. When the two of them left to pursue their new project, the smart money was most definitely on Heaven 17 hitting the big time and The Human League fading into obscurity. Of course, things didn’t quite work out that way.

Still, for a few years Heaven 17 released a string of sophisticated, intelligent pop albums that were among the earliest to satirise the yuppified, get-rich-quick mentality that defined Thatcher’s Britain in the ’80s. And though not all of their work has aged so well, Let Me Go is an unalloyed delight.

(WIKI FACT: Let Me Go was “one of the first commercial releases to feature the Roland TB-303, a bass synthesiser which later played a pivotal role in the later acid house movement.”)

Top of the Tweets: Yeonpyeong Edition

In yet another new feature here, I’m going to take a regular look at some of the most popular Korean Tweets of the week and, where possible, any stories around them. I’m not altogether sure how successful/interesting this approach will be, but given how often Tweets are appearing in news stories these days, there must be a few gems in there that never make it as far as the English-language media.

Here’s three of the most popular this week, all perhaps influenced by the recent North Korean attack on Yeonpyeong Island:

  • Fourth most read and retweeted this week comes from @ChungMinCho, a minister at the Onnuri Community Church and a presenter on CGNTV, an evangelical Christian TV channel, who Tweeted this possible allusion to North Korea’s shenanigans on Yeonpyeong Island last week — “With buildings, the depth of the underground floors decides the height of the floors above ground. In life, the depth of your suffering decides the heights of your character, and the depth of the people’s suffering decides the heights of their glory. Our suffering … is not something we just endure before it all comes to an end.”

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/ChungMinCho/status/8666499648585728″]

  • With third place taken by a promotional offer, second belongs to MBC anchor Kim Juha (@kimjuha), who also makes a Yeonpyeong-related comment (which appears to have vanished from her original Twitter feed) with a tribute to a local businessman who helped out.

A compliment. President Seo Gi-suk from Incheon InSpa World. You turned away paying customers and from your own pocket, you employed 10 extra people to prepare food and beds for the people of Yeonpyeong. You are the true face of Korea. Thank you. (칭찬합니다. 인천 인스파월드 서기숙 사장님. 유료 손님 거절하시고 연평도 주민을 위해 식사와 잠자리에 서비스할 아르바이트 10명까지 추가고용 모두 자비로 부담하고 계십니다. 당신이 진정 대한민국입니다. 고맙습니다.)

  • And the most mentioned Tweet in Korea this week — and, astonishingly, at the time of writing the fourth most mentioned Tweet in the world — comes from Korean Twitter legend Lee Oi-soo (@oisoo). A controversial 68-year-old novelist whose caustic wit draws affection and disdain in equal measure, Lee has more than 500,000 followers, making him by far Korea’s most popular Twitterer.
  • This Tweet has a bit of a backstory, making it incomprehensible to the uninitiated (including myself and the first two Korean friends I asked). Gaining Lee as a Twitter follower is apparently quite an honour, so he occasionally asks questions to his own followers, telling them that he will follow those who give the correct answer.

    On this occasion — again, perhaps with the events on Yeonpyeong in mind — he asked:

Here’s a question from my nonsense quiz. A soldier is mentioned in one verse of our national anthem. Do you know his name and rank? People who’ve read my long work “Monster” will know.
    The Tweet giving the answer, which has so far gained 2,753 replies and 134 RTs, explained that  it was “이보우 하사” (Lee Bo-u Hasa, or Staff Sergeant Lee Bo-u) which was a word play on: “하느님이 보우하사 우리 나라 만세,” meaning  “May God bless Korea our land for endless ages to come!” (Which is, as the Korea old hands among you will know, a line from Korea’s national anthem.)

This concludes this nonsense quiz. The answer was “Lee Bo-u Hasa” or “Hasa Lee Bo-u.” I’ve followed everyone [who got it right]. People who answered “Bo-u Hasa,” better luck next time!

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/oisoo/status/8770233091227648″]